If at first you don’t succeed …

I just read the most inspiring essay for those of us who are accumulating rejection slips at the speed of light.

If at first you don’t succeed …

Try. Try again.

After that, join a critique group.

If you still don’t succeed, stop stressing and go read a book and remember why you love great storytelling.

Then write a new book.

Try some creative new opening pages for your book. Come up with 10 different possible starting points. Test ’em all. (Make your critique partners vote on it.)

If you still don’t succeed … Read entire essay by Literary Agent Rachel Vater.

10 Things I Hate About Revisions

I ran across this idea on Andrew Auseon’s blog. Since I feel like I’ll never be done revising my YA novel in progress, I asked my husband Harry to help me compile this list.

10. You’ve given up other things that are important to you in order to schedule time to revise your WIP, like writing new work, spending time with your spouse, shopping for food, calling friends and family. (My exercise routine has also gone out the window).

9. You read a portion of your WIP that you thought was so good when you wrote it months ago and ask yourself, “what the hell was I thinking?”

8. You aren’t having fun. You turn off the internal editor when you write creatively, but revising is not creative. That internal editor does its best to dampen your enthusiasm while you rewrite your WIP.

7. Your heart is simply not in the story anymore. The characters have become cold and the scenes lifeless. You don’t want to look at that integral chapter. You’ve rewritten it umpteen times, but it still isn’t right, so you force yourself to try again.

6. The trickle down effect. You make necessary revisions to the final chapter of the book, happy with the ending, only to discover that you now have to go back through the entire novel to make corrections that fit your new ending. You run screaming from the computer.

5. You ask yourself the question, “Am I revising the life out of it?” Your lifeless WIP doesn’t answer — unbeknownst to you it died months ago.

4. You are tired of answering the question, “Did you finish your novel?” with “No.” You want to scream if another person asks you about the progress of your book.

3. The creeping fear that you’ll never be finished is always in the back of your mind.

2. You wonder, if, after all your hard work in revising you’ll even be able to find an agent or if anyone will ever even want to read your novel.

1. You ask yourself “Why did I ever want to write in the first place?” Your lifeless WIP mocks you from the computer screen.

The Magic Quilt or High Treason?

I’ve made steady progress on my young adult novel. I’ve enjoyed finding Katharine’s voice and watching her character grow. But as Katharine has grown, the original title, The Magic Quilt, doesn’t seem to work. The focus of the novel is no longer the quilt. So, I’ve changed the title to High Treason, which fits both on a literal and figurative level.

September 29, 2008: I have decided to use the original title: THE MAGIC QUILT

Keeping Characters Fresh

I’m optimistic that I will finally be able to finish my young adult novel in progress, THE MAGIC QUILT. Working 5 mornings a week on the book has helped the characters to stay alive in my mind. What I struggled with before was that when I did have an hour or two or five to work on The Magic Quilt, usually on Saturday or Sunday morning, it took me at least an hour to get back into the world of 1775. I would read my historical notes and skim chapters before I was there in my mind; I need to feel what Katharine feels and experience life with her.

So, I’ve set aside Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings to write from 6 to 8 am before work. Two mornings were short writing sessions this week due to pressures from my day job — final deadline for delivery of test items to one of our clients. Even with only an hour, it was enough to keep me in the story and keep Katharine alive.

My goal now is to finish rewriting the historical portions of the novel first, because they are the most difficult to get the emotional interplay right between and among the characters. I did finish a rough draft of a rewrite of the final chapter, and I’m going to start by finishing the ending. I have the history correct, but I don’t yet have Katharine’s voice consistent. Her character grows throughout the novel, so I want to make sure the chapters reflect that growth and match her voice. So I am making what I hope is the final rewrite of the novel for consistency, tightening, and pace of action. I also am cutting where necessary, which is hard for me because I’ve fallen in love with several scenes that do NOT move the story along; they have to go. I have started a folder of unused scenes. I’ve called the folder “sequel.” When I delete scenes and sometimes whole chapters I move them to this folder on my computer. I may never use these scenes in a sequel, but at least I don’t feel like they are lost.

In the words Diane Chamberlain of one of my favorite authors, writers need to give the reader some credit to follow the story without telling them everything:

Even though my work-in-progress is my seventeenth, I’m still having to dial back my desire to over-explain all the relationships and past events early in the story. The chapter I’m revising right now. . . I actually think I can cut it out altogether and trust the reader to fill in the blanks. Otherwise, the pace will slow down and that’s the last thing I want. I need to remember that my reader will enjoy a feeling of discovery as she makes her way through the book. I don’t need to weigh her down with information she can figure out on her own. Read Diane Chamberlain’s blog.

If this blog is silent over the next couple of weeks, it is because I am making a tremendous effort to finish The Magic Quilt. Wish me luck.

Simple Genius

I’ve made myself a new writing schedule where I write on M, W and F morning for two hours before work. I’ve only done it last week and this morning, but it has made a difference in my attitude. Writing throughout the week has allowed me to make excellent progress on The MAGIC QUILT because I never mentally get out of the book. Each time I write I am immersed in Katharine’s life and I think about her even when I’m not writing. I write down notes to myself several times a day — sometimes when I’m driving to and from work. I apologize to the other drivers out there. I’m that car going 55 in the slow lane that everyone is passing while I’m writing on a scrap of paper. I’m going to work on rewriting the final chapter this morning, which is an awesome feeling.

It was a rainy day yesterday – much needed after the drought we’d been experiencing. After writing in the morning, I used the rainy afternoon to finish reading SIMPLE GENIUS by David Baladacci. This was my favorite of the series with dynamic duo Sean King and Michelle Maxwell. The former Secret Service agents turned private investigators have their hands full in a twisting plot involving mathematics, codes, the CIA and murders made to look like suicides.

But it wasn’t the espionage that drew me in so completely — It was Michelle. The book begins when she picks a fight in a bar with the biggest man she could find and lets herself be beaten, despite her superior fighting skills. “Before she blacked out completely Michelle’s final thought was simple: Goodbye, Sean.” I wanted to read on simply to find out why.

While Michelle is recovering from her injuries in the hospital, Sean King gives the man she fought $45,000 of his own money to prevent him from pressing charges against Michelle for his medical injuries. Now Sean must find a case to keep their business afloat. He finds one — a murder in Babbage Town, the think tankmodeled after World War II’s Bletchley Park. Baldacci’s twenty-first-century version of Bletchley brings together a community of scientists working on a new kind of computer. Sean soon learns enough to put his life and that of a girl who shows extraordinary genius in jeopardy. He is working alone, while his partner is receiving psychiatric treatment — until Michelle stops a shooting in the psychiatric center where she is being treated, checks herself out and joins her partner in Babbage Town.

I love the way Baldacci captures Michelle’s voice. This books works especially well because of the interplay between Sean and Michelle. Well written and captivating.

Creative License

Below is an excerpt from Katharine Taylor and the Magic Quilt that is the focus of this blog.

“Dr. Warren’s Speech.”

… Sara Revere touched the silver locket on her necklace and transmutated into a tiny black bird that stood on her bedroom floor. Katharine transmutated into what she hoped was a brown cardinal with red tipped wings and an orange beak.

“Come Katharine,” the blackbird said and flew out the window. Katharine was afraid to fly, but she closed her eyes and flapped her wings a couple of times. She landed on the bed, grasping the bedspread with her claws. Her heart pounding, she flew once more around the room.

Still a little nervous, she stood up straight on her bird feet, took a deep breath and flew out the window. Wind hit her, like when she rode her bike down hill.

A flock of blackbirds circled the house, which startled her until she heard one of them call her name in Sara’s voice. “Follow us,” the black bird said.

When Katharine looked down, the house was small. The privy a small box the size of a domino. A flutter of fear made her wings skip a beat and she fell a few feet, sure she would crash to her death. But the Cardinal’s instincts took over and her bird body pumped its wings faster and she caught the flock of blackbirds. She was actually enjoying the wind fluffing her feathers. When she looked down again, she and the flock were above the church.

Sara dove into a window. Katharine followed her and perched on a beam in the church ceiling next to bird that was Sara. “We have the best view in the church, I knew we would,” Sara’s voice said from the blackbird’s beak. “And we’ll be able to hear everything.”

“I don’t see Dr. Warren,” Katharine said. There were at least one hundred people crowded into the sanctuary.

“Since Dr. Warren’s not here yet, we didn’t miss anything.”

“But how will he get into the door, or up to the pulpit with all these people?” Katharine asked. “The door is blocked with men. He’ll have to elbow his way through the crowd.”

Suddenly, there was a disturbance at the front of the church. Dr. Warren’s white wig appeared in the window behind the pulpit. He put a black leather shoe through, gold buckle gleaming, and jumped to the ground. Whispering voices filled the church. Unobserved, Sara and Katharine flew above the pulpit where they could see a ladder leaning against the outside the wall below the window. Dr. Warren must have climbed the ladder to get into the window behind the pulpit.

The men in the room stopped talking as soon as Dr. Warren stood at the pulpit. It may have been hard for the men in the back of the room to hear him, but the brown and black birds sitting in the window behind the pulpit heard every word. He took note cards from his pocket and read, “Our men are thrown in prison without a jury trial. They are found guilty with no defense and hung. Their families must fend for themselves. It’s time to fight back! King George III has violated the rights of his people so he forfeits our allegiance. If General Gage or any other Tory tries to arrest anyone for political reasons, we will seize British officers as hostages. Consider this war! Our intelligence efforts have begun.”

When a man with a beet red face pushed his head into the window, a black and brown bird flew into the rafters with a noisy fluttering of wings . Dr. Warren went over to speak to the red-faced man and then came back to the pulpit, “It has come to my attention that an influenza epidemic is spreading quickly. I am needed to care for the sick.” …

Struggling with whether to include the above in the young adult novel I’m endlessly revising, I posted this question at the Writers Net Discussion Forum: http://www.writers.net/forum/read/12/70190/70190Vf. For those of you who don’t want to click the link, or aren’t a member, below is a summary.

I finished the first draft my historical fantasy novel for young adults two years ago. This was the first novel that I’ve ever written; in retrospect, a historical novel was not the easiest genre for a first novel. The novel takes place in the present and in 1775. I made the mistake of writing the first draft without doing enough research into Colonial Boston, or into Paul Revere’s life, who is a central character. (I am a science researcher who was a former science teacher, far removed from the history of the American Revolution).

Patrick Leehy of the Paul Revere house was kind enough to edit my text and, no surprise, he found some mistakes. For example Sara Revere, Paul’s first wife, was alive and well in my first draft. She was deceased in 1775 — oops. So I revised the entire novel, correcting such history mistakes.

In order to correct the history, I had to remove a chapter because it took place in March of 1775 and my novel is set in April. After meeting with my critique group, I want to put the chapter back in. but this will involve the central character taking a trip back in time to March, and then making another second trip in April, which will involve some rewriting work.

Meanwhile, my husband is asking me when I’ll ever finish the novel (I have, after all, been working on it for three years). I keep saying soon, but sometimes I feel like the answer is really — never. Since this is my first time around the block with a novel, I decided to post these two questions as a sanity check:

1 How important is it to have every fact correct in a historical fiction or fantasy novel? I have tried very hard to make the novel match real history as much as my humble science background allows.

2 When is enough enough? I do not feel that my novel is ready to query agents yet, but will it ever be perfect? I keep incorporating feedback from my writing group, but I wonder if I am rewriting too much.

Here are some of the responses that I received: You can read the responses in their entirety at the link above.

I write historical FICTION and fiction is the key word here. I presume (and I could be wrong) fantasy falls into the same category as fiction, since it’s not REAL. In order for some of my events to take place, I had to make a factual event happen earlier in the year than it did in reality, but, because the book is fiction I can do that. However….I clarified in an afterward that I was AWARE I had changed the time line so as not to be corrected by historians who KNOW when the event actually occurred. I believe Stephen King exercised his “poetic license” in Christine. He wanted to use a specific model for his car, but it wasn’t manufactured until a year AFTER the book took place. A short afterward stating he used that car because….even though he was AWARE it wasn’t manufactured until a year later took car of car enthusiasts who would have been breaking down his door to tell him that car didn’t even exist when his story is set. And I agree with Harper about the writer’s group. Unless you have experienced (i.e. published or very close to published) writers in the group, not all opinions may be correct. I’m in a group in which I’m the most experienced writer and I’m making corrections to assumptions all the time. Be careful.

It will never be perfect. And writing groups can be tricky because everyone’s got an opinion and they can’t all be right. Do they all say the same things, or do they each have a different slant on it? If they all agree on the problems, you should probably listen. Otherwise, you should follow your instincts. But it’s never going to be perfect. As close as you can get to perfect is to be really serious about revisions and take it as far as your skill allows. But don’t stop until you do that.

Anyone one who works for the customer directly knows taking a long time to produce a product can hurt your business. So What? Trying to flog a sub-standard product to a knowledgeable clientele will attach the odor of dead fish to everything you do for a lot longer than it takes to re-write a chapter or two..

I really appreciate the help from these experienced writers. The afterword is exactly the fix that I needed and I’ve just added it to the end of my novel. It corrects this issue and others that I have been struggling with in getting the history right. I never would have thought of it on my own.

I will keep revising the novel until I am happy with it. It is the right thing to do, even though it seems like an endless task. I do have confidence in my writing critique group. I think their suggestions have made the book stronger. So I’ll keep on keeping on and let you know what happens.